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She Lived Another Life - an Editorial Review of "Of Ripeness and the River"

Book Blurb:

Clare Yates lives by a river and teaches in a small Midwestern university town in 1982, six years after leaving her lover in San Francisco. In a “hobo” diary by Jack London, she finds a clue to what she always thought was true--she has lived another life, in a different place and time—she’s had a dream since childhood of a woman in 19th century dress running downhill, a baby in her arms, away from a burning house. With the clues from London's diary, she goes looking for proof of that life. Alternating chapters begin to reveal the life of Mary Ferguson, starting in 1894, whose life is lived alongside another river, and the two storylines converge as Clare struggles to discover her past life. New and former lovers and rock stars complicate the journey with intense experiences, and give her a mission to complete in the present.

Author Bio:

Mary F. Burns is the author of several books of historical fiction:

Literary/Historical Fiction:




AT CHALK FARM (2018) A Novella/Sequel to Henry James’s “In the Cage”

THE GRACE OF UNCERTAINTY (2019) A Novella/Sequel to Henry James's "Crapy Cornelia"


READING MRS. DALLOWAY (2021) A Literary Essay

And she also has written novels featuring John Singer Sargent and Violet Paget (Vernon Lee):


THE SPOILS OF AVALON (2014) (first in a mystery series)

THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES (2019) (second mystery)

THE UNICORN IN THE MIRROR (2020) (third mystery)

THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT (2022) (fourth mystery)

Mary is a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. She has been a regular panelist and speaker at the North American Historical Novel Society Conference. She is also a member of the Henry James Society and the International Vernon Lee Society. Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English; she also holds a J.D. from Golden Gate University. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood.

For more information please visit Mary Burns’s website at

Editorial Review:

As a book reader and reviewer, you approach each book differently. The book description hints at the plot, the characters, and what to expect. Sometimes, the author or the book will fail to deliver on these expectations, leaving an unsatisfied reader and cases where you don’t bother to finish reading the book. However, there are those cases where you turn from one page to the other, completely ignorant of the time, your life, and all your problems. This book fits into the second criterion, where the author draws you in with two characters from different timelines and something unique that connects them. As I start this review, I want to commend the author for her exceptional work, piecing together two characters whose lives would otherwise feel different and estranged. Still, their connection makes them and this story an interesting and mind-blowing piece worth every turn of the page.

Wild nights - Wild nights! Were I with thee, Wild nights should be Our luxury!”

These words come from a poem that one of the story’s primary characters, Clare Yates, reads as she attempts to familiarize herself with her home after being away. The story starts with Clare returning home, with a feeling of loss and devastation, having recently broken up with her lover in San Francisco. She tries to rebuild her life, starting with a new job at a state university in her hometown, and trying to create new relationships with some of her old friends. However, things do not go as planned, and the author graciously shows the conflict within Clare. Despite having all the tools to start a new life in a safe environment, Clare still feels something is missing. All the thrill she had when she was in San Francisco still calls to her. As such, she feels safe when she goes to the river, and watching the water crashing on the stones reminds her of her life. With these lines from the poem, the author finds an impressive way of showing the reader Clare’s dissatisfaction with her new life, and despite the losses, she took-she still misses San Francisco.

Mary returned the smile with a squeeze of her hands as well. “Family—children—nearer than ever in heart,” she said and sighed, remembering how she had wanted her mother near when she was pregnant with Katie. Her daughter and son-in-law had returned from their European honeymoon, Katie radiant with the news, Matthew bursting with pride and nervous excitement.

As the book progresses, the author then connects Clare to an older woman who somewhat lived her life years before her. We meet Mary Ferguson. When she is introduced, Mary Ferguson is a new mother who lives in Iowa and has lost her husband and mother to a river flood that swept through their town. Through this character, we see the themes of loss, family, and waking up from the dead. Through Mary’s life, we experience the pain of losing a loved one to death, reconciling with an enemy one cannot defeat- the river, and restarting your life after dealing with all this. The highlighted statement shows how the prospect of joy and hope had helped her move on from her husband’s and mother’s death. It's possible the author created Mary for this story to show us real grief and loss and how Clare’s life, in an age much better for women, seemed almost insignificant compared to Mary’s.

Love goes on. It never dies. Trust it. Trust your love. See where it takes you.”

These are the last words in the book that Clare reads and can be seen as an instrument used by the author for juxtaposition and hyperbole from one of the characters. The relationship between the two characters is the one aspect that makes the book so enticing, with the author using numerous literary devices to make these comparisons. The author uses this to connect the two characters and how different their priorities are. Mary is a widow fighting mental illness because of the grief and loss she faced in life. To her, the river will always remain a crucial part of her life because it took away the two of the most important people in her life at the moment. The future is uncertain and hopeful because her daughter is married to a good man. On the other hand, Clare is a middle-aged woman who cannot move on with her life despite having everything she needs to move on. We are shown that while Mary associates the river with grief and anger, Clare sees it as an extension of her memories from San Francisco. While both women’s lives are changed by men who come into their lives, Mary’s male partner puts her on an upward trajectory while Clare’s life is sent on a downward trajectory. The author successfully connects these two characters despite living in different societies and lifetimes.

Maybe Clare and Mary are connected, and maybe they are each side of a coin. Despite all this uncertainty, one thing remains clear-without Mary Burns’ genius; then this story would have failed. The transition from past to present was very fluid, making it simple to keep track of the several characters. Her fascinating use of words transports the reader into each historical period, feeling the misery, grief, love, discovery, forgiveness, and reconciliation each key character experiences. Truly loved reading this book and would suggest this book to fans of high-quality literary works.


"Of Ripeness and the River" by Mary L. Burns receives five stars and the "Highly Recommended" award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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